Engaging Users to Improve Data Literacy

Engaging Users to Improve Data Literacy

In a recent post, we discussed a common way that a lack of data literacy manifests in higher education: requests for new software simply because users don’t understand the functionality and data already available to them. Fortunately, there are ample opportunities to address and improve business intelligence (BI) users’ ability to understand and communicate data. Developing data literacy is a key component of the initial roll-out of a BI initiative and must be addressed on an on-going basis as new functionalities are added and new users are brought on board.

Business intelligence is about people and process, in addition to technology. If you find yourself surprised by users’ seemingly obvious questions about what data is available or requesting new software simply because “another institution used it for this type of analysis,” it’s time to rethink your strategy. We recommend exploring these questions:

Was your BI rollout “one and done”, or is it ongoing?

The strongest implementations include consistent communication to end users about the capabilities for your platform, such as:

  • new analytical reports and dashboards
  • new capabilities of your data model
  • new tool features after an upgrade

Does your onboarding consist of pointing a new employee to the BI platform’s URL and a dog-eared copy of an old training guide that uses a pet store as the example data set?

  • Personalized training is best, but self-paced training can work if it is modularized, and the data used in the examples are related to the end-user’s job, e.g. financial aid data for a financial aid staff member.
  • Follow up with the new user and see how they are doing. Is there something that they need that they don’t know how to get or is there an opportunity to increase the functionality of the platform?

Is your analytics environment meeting your customers’ needs?

If users aren’t getting what they need from the environment, they aren’t going to use it. If they don’t use it, they aren’t practicing. And if they aren’t practicing they are not increasing their data literacy skills.

  • We have seen many analytics environments fail because IT felt that they had given the users enough data to get started. In reality, what often happens when users are missing data is that they just stop using the solution.
  • Even worse, they probably won’t tell you, either because they don’t know how to ask for what they need or feel disengaged from the project. They’ll simply revert to familiar manual processes and shadow spreadsheets.
  • To make sure your customers are getting what they need, engage in consistent dialog with them:
    • Conduct surveys with the departments you serve
    • Monitor usage of your BI platform
    • Hold quarterly meetings to have a face-to-face conversation where you can discuss how to get better value from your analytics environment

Ensuring that users have the data they need, and fully understand the data behind the BI platform as well as the functionalities of the tools themselves, is a great start on the road to data literacy. When users aren’t thinking critically about your institution’s data and existing tools, you risk misallocating or wasting resources and ending up with a solution that isn’t properly implemented, doesn’t move your organization forward, and worst of all, impacts full adoption of your enterprise BI platform. When the obvious questions arise, don’t miss an opportunity to identify and address the underlying issue of data literacy.



-Higher Ed Team, ASR a Voyatek Company